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4 of Today’s Emerging Project Management Trends

Faculty Insights Industry Advice Management

CJ Walker Waite, PMP, PhD, a professor of practice at Northeastern, explore four industry trends and how project managers can prepare for them.


Do you remember that Oldsmobile commercial from the late ‘80s with the catchphrase, “This is not your father’s Oldsmobile?” The automobile company tried convincing the next generation of drivers that their car was “redesigned for the future,” by highlighting brand new attributes they thought would appeal to a younger audience, like an onboard computer and V6 engine.

We are seeing this same trajectory in project management. That is, that the project management trends emerging today are far different from how we evaluated and envisioned success a decade or two ago. Similar to the Oldsmobile example, what today’s project management trends are showing is that there are new and different attributes that are expanding the base of individuals who are proactively, or accidentally, pursuing the profession.

Trend One: The Nature of the Project Manager is Changing

The “Talent Triangle,” courtesy of the Project Management Institute

First, the actual nature of the project manager is changing—their talents, capabilities, education, and experience. Organizations and industries are demanding more from project, program, and portfolio managers, and are expecting them to be in a position to contribute to the organization’s strategic objectives.

For example, the Project Management Institute (PMI) recently published a whitepaper on “Building High Performance Teams.” In that whitepaper, they illustrated the results of their organizational and leadership surveys, which showed that the project managers of tomorrow needed to be more than someone well-versed in project management tools and techniques. These individuals needed to have leadership and strategic and business management acumen.

This emphasis has been integrated into PMI’s Project Management Professional (PMP) credential, such that, as individuals update their credentials, they must indicate how their ongoing training and development is related to the three areas of the “Talent Triangle.”

Trend Two: The Nature of Projects, Programs, and Portfolios Is Changing

A second trend is the nature of projects, programs, and portfolios with an organization. Traditionally, this has been seen from an operational perspective, where divisions have focused on tools, techniques, templates, standards, and processes to increase overall efficiency in their project delivery. Although that remains a desirable objective at the tactical level, the more significant trend is the elevation of program and portfolio and project management to the executive level, as it’s become critical to effective strategic implementation of corporate objectives.


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PMI maintains that “all strategic change happens through projects and programs.” Although PMI has long argued for the strategic value of project management and its role in implementing strategy, the current positioning was created just seven years ago. This perspective was later supported by the book, “Transforming Business with Program Management,” which agrees that organizations need to constantly innovate and improve products and services to maintain a strong competitive position in the marketplace.

The vehicle used by organizations for such constant reinvention is a business transformation program. There is a linkage between strategy formulation and strategy execution through the program management discipline. Program management integrates strategy, people, process, technology, structure, and measurement on cross-functional initiatives.

Trendsetters in the profession are so committed to this direction that, in early 2017, The Brightline Initiative was founded by PMI, Agile Alliance, and the Boston Consulting Group. Brightline’s objective is:

To become the leading authority on strategic initiative management with the aim of helping enterprises reduce the failure rate of large-scale strategic initiatives and avoid the resulting loss of competitive advantage and destruction of value.

When Thinkers50—a company focused on providing “a global ranking of management thinkers”—later joined the Brightline consortium, it further validated the need companies have for professionals who can turn ideas into “value-creating action.”

Third Trend: The Nature of Business Is Changing

A third trend we are seeing is the nature of business. Steve Case—a pioneer who made the Internet part of everyday life—was on the leading edge of a revolution in 1985 when he co-founded AOL, the first Internet company to go public. In his book, “The Third Wave,” he uses insights garnered from his nearly four decades of working as an innovator, investor, and businessman to argue the importance of entrepreneurship and to chart a path for future innovators.

In his book, Case notes:

We’re entering the Third Wave; a period in which entrepreneurs will vastly transform major “real world” sectors like health, education, transportation, energy, and food—and in the process change the way we live our daily lives. “The Third Wave” explains the ways in which newly emerging technology companies will have to rethink their relationships with customers, with competitors, and with governments; and offers advice for how entrepreneurs can make winning business decisions and strategies—and how all of us can make sense of this ever-changing digital age.

Fourth Trend: The Nature of Program, Portfolio, and Project Management Is Changing

Given the changing nature of business, we are also seeing a fourth emerging trend for the Program, Portfolio, and Project Management (PPPM) profession: Who will be expected to understand, utilize, and apply the principles of PPPM?

In May 2017, the Thinkers50 European Business Forum presented a topic called, “The Silent Disruption: The Project Economy.” One of the featured speakers for this topic was Antonio Nieto-Rodriguez, a former chair of the PMI Board of Directors.

During the talk, Nieto-Rodriguez said that there was an “unnoticed, yet relentless, business model radical shift,” where organizations are doing less in operations due to the increase in automation, adding that there is also an increase in projects with a focus on portfolio and programs, because this is how an organization can deliver on its strategy and lead innovation. In this new paradigm, he said, that there will be a shift from focusing on products to focusing on projects and sales—even for product providers—and that every CEO should become a project manager. Imagine.

So the question to ask yourself is, “Will you be ahead, in the middle, or behind these emerging trends?” And, if you want to be ahead of the curve, how do you prepare? One option is with a master’s degree in Program and Portfolio Management. Another is to become a certified project manager. Either way, you want to stay ahead of the competition and ensure that you are relevant today and tomorrow.


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